by Quinn Levandoski
reviewed on PC
Into the Deep End
Right when you start your first campaign (of many, if you choose the permadeath “Hardcore” mode), Deep Sky Derelicts lives up to the first half of its name and throws you into the deep end. Right away, you’ll be asked to create three crew members, for whom you can customize their name, portrait, class, demeanor (which boosts a certain stat), and character model. While the stats are explained via mouseover, it’s hard to know what kinds of team compositions and combinations actually have a chance at working, meaning you’ve just got to let trial and error be your teacher until you get a better hang on what exactly the game is all about.
Then it’s off to the races. A budding scavenger, you and your crew are given an intriguing offer- find “The Mothership,” a mysterious ship that may more may not actually exist, and you’ll all be granted galactic citizenship and a comfortable life. In order to find the location of this ship, clues and resources have to be gathered from dangerous, millenia-old abandoned ships, which just so happens to be what you were born to do. You’ll also have to pick up side contracts to fund your medical, equipment, and upgrade needs. While the story doesn’t really get terribly more engaging, it does do a good enough job of giving you a reason to do what you’re doing.
The general gameplay of Deep Sky Derelicts goes something like this. After receiving a mission, you’ll need to fly to one of a number of derelict stations to find the goal of your search. Of course, searching around the grid-based environment is a lot easier said than done. Being far from civilization proper, you’ve got limited energy, when that runs out your crew is stuck to die and float for eternity. Moving around the grid costs energy. Searching areas take energy. Combat takes energy. This resource management takes front seat in almost every situation, forcing you to consider how and when you interact with the environment in order to make it out.
Decks and Balances
Combat is a mix of turn-based combat and deck-building. Each mercenary in your squad has a deck of attacks and abilities, and are dealt a random hand each encounter. Your characters’ class affects the cards they’ll start the game with, which opens the game up for some interesting replayability. Is it better to run two bruisers and a healther? A leader, healer, and recon specialist? There are a lot of options, but I had success with one healer, one leader, and a big, nasty bruiser. Acquiring new cards for your deck is a matter of finding and buying new equipment and equipment mods. Each item has associated cards, so it’s really not all that different than standard deck building, but it does add some logic and visualization that helped things make more sense to me. There’s also health to worry about, with a shield stat that resets every encounter and a health stat that you’ve got to pay to fix, which adds even more to consider as you weight the pros and cons of different actions. I had fun with the deck-building, making the strategic elements of the game- exploration and card management/combat- a solid two for two in my eyes.
When I initially wrote up an Early Access preview for Deep Sky Derelicts shortly after it went public, I noted that the combat balance was a frustrating issues. I was, without exception, out-powered, and I didn’t feel like I was being given access to the credits and equipment I needed at a reasonable pace. While I noted enjoying the idea of the combat and resource acquisition, balance stood in the way of me really being able to have fun with it. I haven’t followed the patch notes since then, but I can say that the game is in a much, much healthier place now than it was months ago. It still took me a few playthroughs to find a squad composition I really liked, and I think the game could still use some sort of tutorial, but I was able to have a lot of fun right from the get-go.
With how much I love the general aesthetic of the game, it’s a shame that the vast, vast majority of time out on missions is spent just looking at a basic grid. It’s not that the grid doesn’t serve its purpose- the boxes do just fine for showing the layout of the map and various encounters as you discover them- but my goodness is it a bore to look at. With a great art style already locked in, I would have loved to see the ships I was exploring. That being said, the player characters and monsters are beautifully designed. There’s a rugged, worn, Darkest-Dungeon-had-a-baby-with-Dead-Space vibe going on that really worked for me, and the comic-book-esque animations for for combat actions did the job for me in lieu of live-action full animations.
Deep Sky Derelicts makes me happy. I play through a lot of early access titles, and I’ve often had reasonable ideas on how games can improve- only to have them released with little to no changes. That isn’t the case here, with changes to balance and resource availability turning this into a game I don’t have a problem recommending. The game isn’t perfect, but it does enough right to overshadow shortcomings like a drab exploration interface and wanting amount of guidance for new players that, when all is said and done, are more annoyances that deal-breakers. So, scrounge together a crew, put your heart in the cards, and, most importantly, good luck!
Fun exploration,satisfying deck building, beautiful character models.
Still could use a tutorial, underwhelming story, visually uninteresting grid for exploration.